The following first appeared in Public Square Magazine and was written by Katrina Donahey.
As a medic serving on active duty in the United States military in 2007, I stood trembling beside a cot whereon laid a motionless and speechless soldier in the supine position. His upper and lower extremities were firmly secured and restrained by leather straps. My job was to watch him, to protect him from himself, to make sure he remained secured and safe until he could be loaded on a plane and flown back to the USA for psychiatric care.
I was crying silent tears for him, for the desperate, hopeless state of his soul that caused him, while bravely donning his country’s uniform, to threaten and/or attempt suicide in the arid land of the Middle East. I marshaled all the courage I had and searched his eyes with my own. He was far away, sinking in the quicksand of deep and intense sorrow. I can still feel—14 years later—the torment of his soul. I remember thinking, “I hope that never happens to me.”
Well, it did happen to me. That big Goliath attacked me 7 short years later.
Battling waxing and waning major depressive disorder (MDD) for several long years and spending days institutionalized in a psychiatric ward in 2019, I know something of the formidable fight to live when you wish you could die, something of lying for days in bed because there is nothing in you that can arouse your facilities to participate in any part of living, something of feeling that God is distant and inaccessible, and something of losing the worst of things: hope.
In the darkness of those days and in the dreadful agony of those nights, healing was such a foreign word, totally inconceivable and unthinkable. Oh, I yearned for it, but the idea of being whole, of living without debilitating depression was too far away, too unreachable, too difficult to make the journey towards it. Making it irrefutably worse was the professional who told me I would just have to manage this for the duration of my life! Talk about adding gas to an already burning inferno!
For many harrowing months, the words and grace of my sweet Jesus kept me alive. Especially when I could not get close enough to touch Him as it were, I could sense His yearning to help me, His desire to save me from myself. I had a harder time finding and connecting with God the Father, but I settled on the idea that if I could feel Jesus, God the Father probably wasn’t too far away, and so I decided I could rest in the assurance that They both wanted to help me.
One day at a time, we chose life. These few words by Elder J. Holland that I committed to memory and that the Spirit brought to my mind many times saved me from going through with a pre-planned suicide attempt: “… do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it!” My life was precious even—especially when—I couldn’t feel or see that.
Don’t underestimate the power and strength of gratitude in the process of healing.
Augmenting the power of Jesus and His help has been the assistance of the Holy Ghost, one of my dearest and most loyal friends. His promptings have been gentle, reliable, and consistent. He has been the conduit for pure revelation flowing to me from Father. He has never failed me in my moments of greatest need. Through these years of full-on war with the unyielding and merciless enemy of MDD, I have discovered anew just how fantastic and incredible this third member of the Godhead really is.
He has delivered perfectly timed, life-saving messages to my heart and mind, and I see now (more than ever) how much I need Him, how better my life is with His influence and guidance, and how much He, too, yearns to help me along the covenant path. He is remarkable, and I will never get over the wonder of Him.
It has been a long and difficult battle to find, accept, and settle into the concept of long-term healing, of wholeness, of functionality—to believe such realities can really happen for me. There have been so many low valleys where I crawled in metaphorical mire up to my neck, but recently I have been walking instead of crawling, and I seem to be avoiding the mudholes much better these days. I still have a long way to go, but I’m starting to see and even feel this righteously coveted long-term healing.
Most days I am in a better place than I was in 2019. Some days, I topple backward at surprisingly rapid speeds, and the spiral is fast and furious and overwhelmingly depressing. But the more recent pattern has been a few good days (even in a row!) intermixed with some depressing ones. It’s progression, and it’s glorious!
Here are seven realizations that have become personal habits (in which I daily participate) that are helping me along the path to greater long-term healing and hope.
The Laws of God
When I was admitted to the psychiatric ward in 2019, it appeared that the overwhelming majority of those admitted on the unit during the time I was there were admitted for (a) primary condition(s) such as bipolar or schizophrenia, etc., but most also had accompanying substance abuse issues, other comorbidities caused by addiction. Never in my life have I been thankful for the Word of Wisdom like I was thankful for it during my time of admission. I saw that the gospel didn’t prevent my MDD, but living the tenets of just one law, the Word of Wisdom, did prevent me from dealing with other debilitating co-morbidities that would in fact complicate the severity of the primary condition(s). This was a groundbreaking discovery for me!
I realized that even if MDD made my life feel out of control and at times totally hopeless and pointless, I could still choose to honor the Word of Wisdom and not turn very bad into way worse. So, my first realization towards healing: live the laws of God, especially the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity. Those laws are a protection against worse.
Grace and Gratitude Journal
In the thick of MDD darkness, a friend felt impressed to give me a little homemade notebook. She gave no instructions for its use, but the Holy Ghost invited me to make it a Grace and Gratitude journal. With great difficulty, I began. It was miserable. Most evenings prior to retiring to bed, I could not think of a way I had seen the grace of Jesus in my life, and recounting ten things for which I was grateful was mission impossible. I kept at it, and over time, it became so much easier, and by day’s end, I already knew several incidences where the grace of my dear Jesus was manifest and only ten things for which to be thankful? Now, I can whip out ten things in less than a minute.
This practice has truly helped elevate me to a better mental sphere. So, my second realization towards healing: don’t underestimate the power and strength of gratitude in the process of healing. Actually, I don’t think it’s possible to heal without it.
Meet me Outside
The Spirit told me a few months ago that I needed to be outside more, that I would find and feel God closer outside, that I could, in a way, meet Him outside. There in the early mornings undisturbed by the stressors of the day, we could work out some problems and talk things over and consider solutions—in the mountains, on walking trails, at parks, around town. Anywhere outside! I am an early riser, but now I am an early riser and walker/jogger 6 days/week.
Along with daily delving in the scriptures, this walking/jogging time is my time with God in His beautiful nature, and it’s rejuvenating. I enjoyed hiking before, but now I LOVE it. On top of a mountain, I look down and “in awesome wonder, consider …” So, my third realization towards healing: get outside and move! I now consider this as important to my hope, health, and healing as good nutrition and adequate sleep.
Babies and Sunrises
The greatest sorrow of my life has been my childless state. Not having any children of my own has contributed to my MDD. Though at times painful to see others—in Sheri Dew’s words—“bear” and “bear with” their children, I have also found an unrivaled feeling of hope and peace holding the babies of other kind parents who let me do so. One of my favorite quotes in all the world is this one by Elder B. Packer: “Every time a child is born, the world is renewed in innocence.” Well, for me it’s not just THE world. It’s MY world that gets renewed. I get renewed. There is a sense of freshness, holiness, yes, innocence that spreads outward from a holy baby so recently come from God.
Equal in glory is one of God’s sunrises. Watching it blossom into existence signals that light is coming, hope for another day is dawning. There have been holy moments—with a baby in my arms or gazing at a promising sunrise—when my depression has been replaced with a divine joy. So, my fourth realization towards healing: hold a baby and watch a sunrise. There are no words adequate for either of those miracles.
Push the Animals Back
In Relief Society a couple of weeks ago, a sister shared this quote by CS Lewis: “All your wishes and hopes (and we could substitute mental health challenges and troubles) for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day.” This idea bolted through me like lightning! Our first daily job is to shove back the animals and allow for the quieter life to take front and center stage.
For me, this includes prayer, scripture pondering and studying, daily meditation, and moments of mindfulness that center me for the day’s challenges. Whatever animals stare me in the face when I wake up, I have started pushing them back and giving myself space and grace for the “quieter life.” So, my fifth realization towards healing: shove the animals back and allow the “stronger, quieter life (to) come flowing in” with each new day.
I started to really notice about a year ago that we humans are made to connect. We need daily connecting. We need the synergy, energy, and life-giving benefits of connection. Without it, it’s common to tank emotionally and mentally. I began to see a pattern in my own life; I would nosedive hard and fast when I couldn’t connect or when I blundered attempts at connectivity. Since major depression often gives way to isolation and can seriously injure, destroy, and ruin relationships, those who thus suffer must work extra hard at connecting.
I am most indebted to those kind souls who have pardoned my stupidity and inability to adequately subdue the monster that is MDD and have understandingly and patiently stood by on the sidelines waiting and praying for me—with love and forgiveness in their hearts. For them, I stand in awe of this gift they give me over and over and over. So, my 6th realization towards healing: work at getting and staying connected. There is sustaining and healing power—that is not available in any other form—in human connectivity. We are built and programmed for it. We must connect to thrive.
Power. Peace. Hope.
A few months ago, the Spirit told me that I needed to be in and around a temple more. Having gone regularly for years, I was surprised by this admonition. Being that a temple was just built and dedicated where I live, this was very doable. I have increased my efforts to worship therein. One recent early morning as I walked outside near the temple, I felt—in a way I’ve never felt before—pure power emanating from that holy place. I have felt the power and peace of the holy temple many times inside its walls, but never have I felt such a sense of power radiating from the outside towards me. It was enveloping, redeeming, healing, gushing like water—like in Ezekiel’s vision.
The promise, though given through Joseph Smith to early Saints in Kirtland, is from God to every temple worthy and temple going Saint of the latter days: we can be endowed with His power! It’s real. Power. Peace. Hope. I have found all three of those things in and near His holy houses. What MDD takes away, God restores. So, my 7th realization towards healing: go where there is power. Go where there is peace. Go where there is hope. Go to the temple.
Go where there is peace. Go where there is hope. Go to the temple.
I used to believe that MDD would always be the monkey on my back, that I would struggle to control and subdue it the rest of my mortal life. One of the greatest days of my life so far is the day I decided to disbelieve that. Starting there—believing that it doesn’t have to always be so—has substantially aided my forward progress! I want to intimately know more of wanting to live every day of my life, more of not spending one unnecessary moment in bed because all of my facilities are participating in living, more of feeling God soothingly close, more of being filled with hope, and more of being whole again—like I used to be as a carefree, little girl growing up on begone farm days of yesteryear.
The image of that sorrowing soldier, devoid of hope, strapped to that green military cot in the windswept Middle East still haunts me today. I wonder if he chose life or succumbed to death. If I could find him again, I would tell him that the same nasty Goliath came for me, too, and that it’s been the fight of my life. But then I would tell him for the first time in what seems like a hundred years, I have this authentic and freeing hope, born of Jesus, His words, and those who minister for Him, that is encouraging me to believe in long-term healing. If then he was to notice and inquire, “And what are these?” I would answer, “God be thanked, happy tears spilling down my cheeks—finally, oh finally.”